Thursday, May 26, 2022

Book Review: "Mission: Interplanetary" by A.E. van Vogt

Mission: Interplanetary by A.E. van Vogt (Signet, 1952)

This paperback edition features an alternate title for van Vogt’s 1950 novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle. Sporting an excellently dark painting cover by Stanley Meltzoff, the book is a fix-up of several short stories. Rewritten as a novel, the book includes material from “Black Destroyer” (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939), “War of Nerves” (Other Worlds Science Stories, May 1950), “Discord in Scarlet” (Astounding, December 1939), “M33 in Andromeda” (Astounding, August 1943), and some new linking material.

As a fix-up, it basically follows a series of adventures and encounters of the crew of the Space Beagle, staffed by scientists, including Elliott Grosvenor, a Nexialist. A Nexialist is someone trained in integrated science and thought, accelerated learning techniques, and hypnosis. Unlike more specialized scientists, they are able to see the connections between different disciplines that others cannot see. In the book, Grosvenor is also skilled in conflict resolution and at encouraging people to collaborate to solve complex problems.

Given the creatures and situations encountered by the crew, they need all the help they can get. Some of the newfound enemies reach out to the crew accidentally—and alarmingly. Others have decided ill intent, perhaps to take over the rest of the universe. Only by working together is the crew able to overcome their challenges. And despite disagreements among the different crew members, leaders, and scientific disciplines, in the end, Nexialism gets a fair hearing.

The writing of van Vogt is clear and compelling, and as a fix-up, the novel offers multiple places to take a breather if one needs to take a break. I found the idea of Nexialism extremely intriguing and wonder if there’s a real-world corollary among the sciences. It reminds me slightly of Ken Wilber’s integral theory, a philosophy that strives to synthesize all human knowledge and experience. You can learn more about Nexialism in Gautham Shenoy’s 2017 article “The Nexialist approach: Van Vogt and the idea that ‘specialisation is for insects.’” You can also read some select quotes from later portions of the novel.

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